Aaron Rodgers felt compelled to go on a Wisconsin radio station the other day and put out a minor rumor that he may be gay.
Spoiler: he denied it.
This rumor had not spread so far that he really needed to say anything, but yet he felt like he needed to address it as many athletes have in the past (i.e. Mike Piazza).
But he still talked. The important question is, “Why?”
There is some evidence that Rodgers is thin-skinned, as a “60 Minutes” interview detailing his anger over someone thinking he’s short would be one example of such, but for a quarterback heading into a big playoff game, perhaps that would not be enough to push him to calm a non-existent storm right away.
While the world is becoming more tolerant of LGBT lifestyles, major American sports have yet to take that next step. Not every place is as tolerant as major liberal cities and states and equality and discrimination may not hold the same percentages in every NFL town.
If so, Rodgers, who like the blackballed Ryan Braun, is a major presence around Wisconsin, may have felt like his endorsements and fans may take a hit if even the possibility were out there.
Or perhaps we have to look at the machine that he is a cog in and realize that maybe the NFL’s uniformity is just as much the issue.
Eyeing the other major “gays athlete” issue of the week – Chris Kluwe’s exposing of the Vikings organization as “cowards and bigots” – we see that the NFL, above all else, prefers their players to stay within the lines they create. This can be seen when Kluwe talked to head coach Leslie Frazier, and was told he “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff”. That “stuff” was being pro-marriage equality.
While this is not an attack on the NFL for being on one side or the other, it is proof that the ideal football player to teams and the league is one that does what they are supposed to do on the field, and does not cross any boundaries, good or bad, off of it.
Athletes have more power than we can ever imagine. Whether they care to be or not, we have seen endless stories about how they are role models for kids and even adults.
So when an Aaron Rodgers feels like he has to go out of his way and deny homosexuality in a non-careful way that can paint the lifestyle as negative (whether he actually feels this way or not), he is drawing his own lines in the sand and making an imprint on those that respect him and listen to him. When he feels he needs to do this because of the atmosphere he belongs in, or the league he plays for, then maybe the system is a thing that needs some change too.
While in talk and conjecture the NFL and other sports speak as if they are ready for an openly gay athlete, when you put the pieces together and take actions like the ones from this past week, it does not give off the feeling of safety for any athlete that one day may be ready to be open.
While the uniformity of the NFL, from dress to actions, has helped it grow into the biggest sport in the United States, there are some times where this ideology can be a negative influence on players. If these players are ever going to make the difference that the popularity and power can allow them to, maybe it is time for some of that uniformity to be dropped.